Orange Bowl

Ringing in the year: Orange Bowl takes prime-time slot on New Year’s Eve

Members of the Mississippi State football team make the best of the idle time between interviews during the Orange Bowl media day on Monday at Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens.
Members of the Mississippi State football team make the best of the idle time between interviews during the Orange Bowl media day on Monday at Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens. MIAMI HERALD STAFF

Thanksgiving belongs to the NFL, Christmas to the NBA and the Fourth of July to Major League Baseball.

College football, once king on New Year’s Day, is making a push at its old spot this week while venturing into new territory — Dick Clark’s prime-time slot on New Year’s Eve.

The sport’s six top bowl games (the Peach, Fiesta, Orange, Cotton, Rose and Sugar bowls) are being squeezed into a tightly orchestrated 48-hour span to create a little holiday football madness with an added twist — a four-team playoff.

The Capital One Orange Bowl, host to multiple national championship games, won’t host a playoff game until next New Year’s Eve. But Wednesday’s 81st Orange Bowl will be historic because it’s just the second time the game won’t be played in January.

And with a kickoff scheduled for after 8 p.m. — shortly after the Fiesta Bowl wraps up in Tempe, Arizona — there’s a chance seventh-ranked Mississippi State (10-2) and 12th-ranked Georgia Tech (10-3) could still be on the field at Sun Life Stadium when the clock strikes midnight.

“I might have to get my girlfriend on the field just in case that happens,” Mississippi State running back Josh Robinson said with a smile during Orange Bowl media day Monday at Sun Life Stadium. “I always spend New Year’s Eve with the people I love. Get a win and get her on the field and I’m set.”

College football on New Year’s Eve might not sound appealing for fans who prefer to party — especially those around here so close to South Beach. But like it or not, that’s when the majority of college football’s biggest games are going to be played in eight of the next 12 years.

Will fans show up to watch important college football games while ringing in the year? Orange Bowl CEO Eric Poms said Monday he’s “cautiously optimistic it’s going to be well received.” The payoff for the Orange — and the other five major bowl games — is remaining prominent and staying in the hunt to host national title games or semifinals.

Miami, host to a memorable 2012 national championship matchup between Alabama and Notre Dame, plans to enter a bid in early February to host either the 2018-19 and 2020-21 title games.

“It’s competitive. We know that,” Poms said. “We’ll put our best foot forward.”

That means showing the country it can do a fine job hosting the game, and also sell tickets.

This year’s game has sold all but “1,000 to 2,000 tickets,” Poms said. But how many people will actually be sitting inside Sun Life Stadium is another issue. Seats for the Orange Bowl were selling for as little as $2 on the secondary market Monday, according to Chris Matkovitch of TiqIq.com. That’s the cheapest “get-in-the-building ticket” of all 38 bowl games, he said.

“The current average list price for the Orange Bowl is $47, which is down 75.76 percent since the match up was announced ($193.87),” Matkovich said in an e-mail. “You can sit in the lower level for just $6. Of the 12,000 available tickets, there are over 4,000 tickets available for $10 or less.”

The average ticket prices for the other major bowl games on the secondary market are: Sugar $334.60; Rose $233.47; Peach $162.57; Fiesta $134.52 and Cotton $131.09. Last year, Orange Bowl fans paid an average of $138.03 on the secondary market to see Clemson beat Ohio State.

But just because consumer demand for this year’s Orange Bowl tickets isn’t high, it doesn’t mean the game will be a financial failure. Eyeballs on TV screens is what ESPN and bowl organizers are after most these days. Though the average attendance for bowl games has declined each of the past six seasons (last year’s 49,116 average was the lowest mark since 1978-79, according to the NCAA bowl record book), TV viewership continues to go up, and that is raking in more money every year for the bowl games and the participating schools and conferences.

This year, the Rose and Sugar bowls will host to the national semifinals Jan. 1, with the national championship set for Jan. 12 in Arlington, Texas. Next year, the Orange and Cotton bowl will host semis on New Year’s Eve, with the Peach and Fiesta bowls doing the same in 2016.

“I think the opportunity for South Florida to be in the national spotlight on New Year’s Eve is a tremendous window to be in,” Poms said.

Poms said what was learned during the Bowl Championship Series era (from 1998 to this past season) was that spreading the major bowls across so many separate nights from Jan. 1 created challenges for fans who had to return to work and school following the holidays.

“The opportunity to get in this window, whether it’s Dec. 31 or Jan. 1, it’s going to be a benefit for the fans coming down to the game, [and] also those living here in South Florida,” Poms said. “It’s more conducive to their schedules.”

And whether Sun Life Stadium is packed or not, Poms expects to see a good game and hear plenty of cowbells Wednesday night.

Mississippi State, playing its first Orange Bowl since 1941, has sold 11,000 of its 15,000 allotted seats, and Georgia Tech has sold a little more than half of its tickets. Many fans from both schools are also expected to buy tickets on StubHub or other secondary sales websites for cheaper than face value, and make a quick trip in-and-out of South Florida for the game.

Fans already here have been mostly congregated in two areas: the alumni association for Mississippi State is at the J.W. Marriott in downtown Miami, and the alumni association for Georgia Tech at the Renaissance hotel in Plantation.

On Tuesday, Bulldogs fans will meet up at American Social (690 SW 1st Court in Miami). Georgia Tech fans are meeting up at Yard House at The Village at Gulfstream Park (601 Silks Run, Hallandale Beach).

“We’ll have a good amount of fans in maroon and white bringing their cowbells down for the game,” said Jeff Davis, executive director for Mississippi State’s alumni association. “We’ve got about 500 or 600 already coming down as part of packages, taking chartered flights down Tuesday or Wednesday. Those cowbells are a tradition passed down from generation to generation, and we’re more than happy that the Orange Bowl is allowing us to ring them during the game.”

Bulldogs fans will get to use their signature noise makers at any time during the game — except from the time the offensive center is over the football and until the play is whistled dead.

Georgia Tech linebacker Quayshawn Nealy, the Yellow Jackets’ second-leading tackler, is already dreading the cowbells.

“Clemson shoots the cannon every time they score,” Nealy said. “Virginia Tech has that key-jingling sound effect on third down that gets so annoying. I haven’t heard the cowbell at all. It’s going to be new to me. But hopefully we can drown it out.”

Georgia Tech, the Atlantic Coast Conference runner-up to Florida State, is listed as a 6 1/2-point underdog to Mississippi State, which finished second in the Southeastern Conference’s West Division.

“Nobody is giving us a chance to win the game,” said Georgia Tech running back Zach Laskey, who ran for a team-leading nine touchdowns this season. “But we’ve fed off that all year. Playing on prime time, New Year’s Eve with the entire nation watching, that’s going to be awesome — especially if we win.”

IF YOU

What, when: 81st Orange Bowl, Sun Life Stadium, 8 p.m. Wednesday, ESPN

Records: No. 12 Georgia Tech (10-3) vs. No. 7 Mississippi State (10-2)

Tickets: About 2,000 remain unsold, but there are plenty available in the secondary market some going as cheap as $2

For the fans – Georgia Tech: Pep Rally Tuesday, 6 p.m. at Yard House at The Village at Gulfstream Park (601 Silks Run, Hallandale Beach). Mississippi State: Pep Rally Tuesday, 2 p.m. at American Social (690 SW 1st Court in Miami

Did you know?

The only other time the Orange Bowl wasn’t played in January was New Year’s Eve 1996 when the game was first moved to Sun Life Stadium. Nebraska beat Virginia Tech 41-21.

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